Syria: Arab Solution Needed
— Hisham H. Ahmed
THE ENGLISH MEANING of the Arabic word Assad is “lion.” In the jungle, the lion is viewed as the king, as he is expected to be a more brutal monster.
Indeed, of all the Arab regimes that have been toppled since the start of the Arab Spring last year, Syria’s Assad regime is the most dangerous. While it is impossible to quantify oppression and repression, the Assad regime has certainly surpassed its Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan and Yemeni counterparts in its assault on the rights of its people and other Arabs over the years.
Although the other deposed Arab heads of state were ruthless and tyrannical beyond imagination, Assad’s dictatorship is, in fact, of a distinct nature. In their failing efforts to delegitimize the revolutions in their countries, Bin Ali, Mubarak, Qaddafi and Saleh all respectively tried to invoke their military and/or historic roles in nation-building of their countries, as a source of legitimacy. For his part, Bashar Al-Assad can claim neither military heroism nor historic preeminence.
Bashar inherited his tight grab on power from his late father Hafez Al-Assad, who had instituted blatantly deceitful ideology, tribal and partisan manipulation and brute force as his means of rule. Bashar, who was detached from politics, was not intended to become President of Syria were it not for the intervention of fateful circumstance: the elder son in the family, Basel, who was being groomed by his father to inherit the reign, was killed in a car accident in 1994.
As Assad the father was dying in 2000, he instructed that the age requirement for presidency in the country’s constitution be amended immediately from 40 to Bashar’s age, 35 years. In so doing, President Assad had punctuated a new concept in Arab politics, monarchical-republicanism. His move became the envy for some Arab “presidents.” This was the goal of Mubarak of Egypt, Qaddafi of Libya and Saleh of Yemen before they met their respective destinies.
Since its rise to power in 1970, the Assad regime has been the most hypocritical and schizoid in the Arab region. While espousing the rhetoric of Baathist “socialism,” it systematically secured the resources of the country in the hands of a small group of self-serving individuals in government.
While it has advocated Arab unity, it proved to be the most divisive. Its role in Lebanon after the start of the devastating 1975 civil war is graphically telling: Assad, the father was masterfully opportunistic in supporting and arming conflicting groups against each other. Assad’s instrumental role in exploiting splits and divisions among Palestinians is quite well-known in the Arab world, going back to 1982 as he backed insurgents against the Palestine Liberation Organization.
While claiming to be the most progressive, it turned out to be the most backward regime, grounded in tribalism and sectarianism. The Alawite sect to which the Assad regime belongs comprises only 10% of Syria’s population.
For the Syrian people, Assad’s regime has been the greatest evil that could befall a people. Over four decades of tyranny, the regime has regularly used the iron fist to crush opposition, as it savagely exterminated tens of thousands of Syrians in Hama in 1982. Since the start of the latest wave of protests last year, it has killed more than 5,500 people and maimed and imprisoned many more thousands. The prison system it has established is one of the most notorious in the world.
For the Palestinians, the Assad regime is the perpetrator of divisions and massacres, the most gruesome being the Tal Al-Zaatar massacre of Palestinian refugees it perpetrated in Lebanon, in 1976. For the Lebanese, the Assad regime is a constant reminder of the more than two decades of destruction of their country during the civil war. For other Arabs, the Assad regime is the embodiment of the despotism they have long rejected.
Creative Arab Solution Needed
The Assad regime itself understands that any serious meaningful reform in today by necessity means its extinction, for it knows that it is lacking in representation and legitimacy. Even the supporters of the regime in Syria today recognize that Assad’s days are numbered.
It is compellingly obvious that conventional solutions for the Syrian dilemma will not work. The need for creative and innovative way out of the current quagmire is more pressing than ever before.
Following the widely disputed Iraqi and Libyan model of regime change through great-power military intervention can bring about some of the most catastrophic results, not only for Syria but also for the region as a whole. Syria’s geostrategic importance is not to be underestimated.
In view of the Russian and Chinese veto in the United Nations Security Council regarding Syria, the internationalization of the Syrian crisis seems to gratify the Assad regime, echoing the world polarization of the Cold War era.
For all intents and purposes, the solution must be mainly Arab in nature. But In the face of Assad’s brutal bombardment of his people, merely sending Arab monitors proved to be quite inadequate.
In addition to mobilizing the already active Arab Street in support of the Syrian people, the Arab League needs to organize a credible Arab peacekeeping force to provide protection and security for the Syrian people — exactly as it once authorized the Syrian regime to send its forces in Lebanon, under the rubric of the Arab Deterrence Forces, supposedly to troubleshoot the civil war there.
In the final analysis, the way out of the Syrian crisis must spring from the Syrian people’s ideas of freedom and not from an external Western force and/or intervention. It was the colonial approach by the French, up until the end of World War II, which contributed to the making of Syria’s contemporary political problems in the first place.
March/April 2012, ATC 157